Street harassment on a sunny Saturday

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Unless you've been living under a rock recently, you'll probably be aware that today was the day the Slutwalkers hit London with their anti-victim blaming message about sexual violence. I wasn't able to go. Here's what happened to me today instead:

It occured as I got off the bus on one of the busiest streets in Peterborough city centre. As I started to walk away from the bus stop, a man walked towards me. As he walked past, he barged up against me, moving his hand on my inner thigh. Then he carried on walking.

I turned and shouted; he turned round and looked me up and down, smirking. I stood as he walked off down the street - he looked back at me a couple of times as he went over to talk to another man. I realised my hands were shaking as I took my phone from my bag. I was enraged, but couldn't figure out what to do. In the end I left it too late - I walked in the direction he had gone, planning to confront him, but he was nowhere to be seen.

I decided to take a trip into town because it was a nice day and I had nothing to do this afternoon. It was supposed to be enjoyable. Now I don't like having my personal space invaded even in the most innocuous of ways. The city centre was packed and as a result I spent the next couple of hours feeling incredibly anxious and angry every time someone came near me. I was cross with myself for not going after him, for taking a photo of him, for doing something more.

I shouldn't have had to be made to feel like this, but this is what happens when some men think they have the right to harass other people in the street. When they feel entitled to touch people and intimidate them and afterwards, smirk and saunter off. When they feel fine about treating women with such little respect.

The message of today's march in London was that the way someone dresses is irrelevant to the way they are treated by those who rape, assault, harass and abuse. One woman carried a placard saying: "I was wearing jeans and a jumper". One marched in a wedding dress, raising awareness that abusers can be husbands too. The harassment today happened while I was wearing somewhat baggy trousers and a cardigan. This isn't the first time I've been a victim of street harassment and I'm sure it won't be the last. It has happened when I've been in heels and office attire, when I've been in gym gear.

As the website of anti-street harassment movement Hollaback states:

"Sexual harassment is a gateway crime that creates a cultural environment that makes gender-based violence OK."

It's not a compliment. It's not a 'fact of life'. It's not a case of 'boys will be boys'. It's beyond unacceptable and it disgusts me.

In somewhat related news, when I heard the news that Andrew Bridgen MP has been arrested on suspicion of sexual assault, the first thing I thought was "here we go again...". We don't know an awful lot about the details of what happened and so obviously no-one is in any position to pass judgement as yet. Whether or not the Daily Mail is in any position to pass judgement is, as usual, completely irrelevant to what it decides to do about stories like this.

Why did I think "here we go again..."? From the Mail today: Woman who says Tory MP assaulted her was 'drunkenly flirting with other men' (don't worry, it's an istyosty link). In the story, we learn that:

"The 29-year-old former political aide was seen chatting to a number of different men..."

"...onlookers told the Mail that his accuser was inebriated and in high spirits when she talked to Mr Bridgen..."

"After closing time, the pair and the second man went back to Mr Bridgen’s flat in Westminster to discuss politics..."

- by which we infer that the Mail is determined to discredit the woman's allegation, based on other aspects of her behaviour that night. I knew there was something slightly odd about the fact that they'd published a couple of weirdly supportive anti-victim blaming pieces related to Slutwalk recently. I knew it couldn't last. No mention of her clothes, but they felt it was important to publish a story talking about the accuser's 'flirting' with 'different men' and 'drinking' in a way which clearly shows this should make us doubt her claim. It's predictable fodder from one of the most misogynist newspapers around but disappointing nevertheless.

Links of interest:

- UK Anti Street Harassment Campaign
- Stop Street Harassment
- This Is Not An Invitation To Rape Me


The Goldfish said...

I'm so sorry this happened to you. It is an odious thing and of course you mustn't be cross with yourself for not doing more - you did more than many might have by managing to turn and shout.

Great write up though. I hope this incident doesn't knock your confidence too hard.

Hannah Mudge said...

I hope so too. I think it was mainly the shock and anger at the time which upset me so much. In future, I may react differently!


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